How To Create An Optimistic Workplace

Optimistic Workplace

Make Work Happy

Do you want to create an optimistic workplace?

How does a strong purpose help in difficult times?

How do leaders set a positive leadership presence?


“The climate suffers when employees don’t believe their leader has their back.” –Shawn Murphy


My friend, author and speaker Shawn Murphy is the CEO & Founder of the leadership blog, Switch & Shift. His new book, The Optimistic Workplace, is a guide to creating and maintaining a powerful, positive, optimistic culture that creates results.

Previously, Shawn shared with us the powerful implications of positive, contagious emotions. I wanted to go deeper into the research for his new book, and so I asked Shawn to share more about the leadership insights he gained from decades of working with business leaders.


“Optimistic climates support employees’ exploration of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy


Find Your Purpose

I was fascinated by the research on eyeblinks. How does the eyeblink reflex relate to purpose?

Researchers used startle probes to measure the reflexive eyeblink caused by a stimulus, in the case of this research it was an image. The images ranged from positive, to neutral, to negative.

What researchers learned was the length of the eyeblink gave insight into the person’s emotional response to the pictures. The longer the eyeblink, the more unpleasant the response to the picture.

How this connects to purpose is that the researchers, Carol Ryff and team, found that those who had a clearer sense of purpose in life recovered faster from negative images. The research gets at a person’s resiliency. Purpose in life strengthens the core of our identity. The clearer our sense of purpose, the stronger our resiliency is; we can recover faster from negative stimulus in our life.

In a work context, we can summon our purpose to guide us through difficult times at work. It can also help us make better decisions, as purpose serves as a guide in decision making: Does this opportunity support my purpose?


“Resilience can be strengthened when a person has a sense of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy


Start Small to Cultivate Optimism

To cultivate optimism in the workplace, you say, “Start small,” and, “Forget about the ‘big bang.’” Most people who have a passion for culture want to jump right in with sweeping initiatives and major change. Why start small?

In my 20+ years as an organizational change management consultant and in leading change in my own company, I’ve learned that the big bang causes more confusion, comes across as rah-rah, and alienates people from what the change purpose and message is.


“Workplace optimism is the belief that good things will come from hard work.” –Shawn Murphy


So, rather go for broke, start small. Create a pocket of excellence. The change starts in a small group within the organization. The group is typically a supporter of the change. Let the small group experience success and gradually widen it to other pockets within the company.

Word of the success travels through networks of people. This approach organically builds support through achieved success and not through possible success. It’s the latter that is the focus of big bang change efforts. It’s what disillusions people about change efforts.


Research: You can transform the work experience by focusing on the best positive realities.

Improve Your Management Skills in One Minute

One Minute

Management Minutes


Looking for meaning in your work?

Need to find new ways to adapt?

Are you managing a team and need some tips?

Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson are two of my very favorite authors. Years ago, they teamed up to write the #1 bestseller The One Minute Manager. It has sold millions and millions of copies. They have just released The New One Minute Manager. Like the first version, it is a powerful, easily read story with easily digestible lessons for managers. Recently, I spoke with Ken about the new book.


“The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people.” -Blanchard/Johnson


Making the Complex Simple

One Minute ManagerWhy do you think The New One Minute Manager became such a worldwide bestseller?

The original book was such a ridiculous success—it spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list—that I knew I couldn’t take full credit for it. I think it was the right book at the right time. Before The One Minute Manager, business books tended to be rather long and dry. My coauthor, Spencer Johnson, was a children’s book writer; I’d been a college professor but had never been a fan of overly complicated writing. Our goal was to take a complex subject—management—and present some simple solutions that worked. People all over the world responded to the way we did that.


Leadership Tip: Catch people doing something right.


From Top-Down to Side-by-Side

Why a “NEW” version?

A couple of years ago our publisher came to us wanting to release an e-book of the original edition. When Spencer and I started to read the original edition, we realized how much the world had changed since 1982, the year it was published. For example, in the old book, the One Minute Manager was still using an intercom!

Here in the 21st century, not only has technology progressed, so have a lot of things. People are different today. They want to find meaning in their work and be appreciated for their efforts. This has changed the way effective leaders interact with the people who report to them. In the 1980s, command-and-control, top-down leadership was still a way of life. Today’s leadership is more of a side-by-side, partnership relationship.


Leadership Tip: Praise people as soon as possible.


One Minute Re-Direct

One Minute Re-Directs are new. How do they work? Where did the idea originate?

Lessons from SEAL, the Toughest Man on the Planet

Living With A Seal

Break the Norm for Wild Success


Ever feel like you want to take your physical fitness plan up a notch?

Maybe give it your all for 51 Days with former Mr. Universe Rich Gaspari?

Or maybe hire a Navy SEAL to move in with your family for 31 days?


“Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.” -SEAL


Jesse Itzler doesn’t do conventional. He doesn’t follow the social norms most of us do. He is a bold, risk taking entrepreneur who seemingly tries anything. He once pretended to be a major hip-hop artist to get a meeting with a studio executive and ended up with a recording deal.

But hire one of the toughest men on the planet to get you into the best shape of your life? Jesse did just that. I recently asked the wildly successful and completely unorthodox Jesse Itzler to share some of his experiences. His new book Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, is a hilarious account of his physical fitness journey. (Warning: the book contains language that may be offensive to some readers.)


“It doesn’t have to be fun It has to be effective.” -SEAL


Get Your Foot in the Door and Figure it Out Later


Living With a SealI’m not quite sure how to describe you, but you’ve had crazy success from music to business. You cofounded Marquis Jet, invested in ZICO, and your wife invented SPANX. That seems like you would be someone who would make wise decisions. And then I read this hilarious book and wonder about that assumption. For those who want to emulate your success, how do you describe your decision-making process?

We are totally on the same page because I really don’t know how to describe myself either. I have always lived my life out of the box, and it has brought me great rewards. For the most part, my decision making has been based on my gut mixed with a philosophy of let me get my foot in the door first . . . and then figure the rest out later.


“If you want to be pushed to your limits, you have to train to your limits.” -SEAL


Jesse, you see a crazy in-shape SEAL and decide he should move in with you and your family. You don’t know him; you didn’t do a background check; you agree to do whatever he says. ARE YOU INSANE? Why did you do this?

I met SEAL at a 24 hour ultra marathon. I ran the race as part of a relay team, and SEAL ran the entire 24 hour race . . . alone. He was his own team. He had a determination and focus that I had never witnessed before in my life. I decided on the spot that I could learn a lot from that man.


“The only easy day was yesterday.” -SEAL


Say No to Non-Essentials

What was most surprising about those 31 days?

The Powerful Implications of Positive, Contagious Emotions

The Optimistic Workplace
This is a guest post by my friend, author and speaker, Shawn Murphy. Shawn is the CEO & Founder of the leadership blog, Switch & Shift. I’m excited that his book, The Optimistic Workplace is now available.

Be Positive

As a leader, you have the greatest influence on those whom you lead. A good day for you can lift the spirits of your team. Research shows that your positive emotions are contagious. Certainly the opposite is true. Yet, there is greater significance when you spread positive, contagious emotions. That is the focus of this article.


“Your presence has a powerful influence on your team.” -Shawn Murphy


Distinguished psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson has devoted much of her research to positive, contagious emotions. She defines them as emotions such as joy, love, or inspiration. When these or other positive emotions are present, they expand our thinking and actions to complementary effects. Positive emotions drive related behaviors that inspire others to mimic them when observed. For example, if you are feeling inspired in a brainstorming meeting and you show it, it will likely rub-off on others who will model similar behaviors. Thus the emotion becomes contagious.


“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” –Elbert Hubbard


Benefits of Positive, Contagious Emotions

Positive, contagious emotions benefit your team and help drive towards desired organizational outcomes. These emotions help shape the work climate to be optimistic. Individuals thrive because of these two influences on performance.

Higher Team Performance

Simply put, positive emotions make you feel good. And when you feel good you perform at higher levels. It’s easier for you to reach peak performance. When you regularly experience positive emotions, you continually grow toward optimal functioning. A team influenced by positive, contagious emotions performs at higher levels.

Positive SeOptimistic Workplacelf-Identity

When you feel good about yourself and your contributions, you are more likely to experience higher levels of creativity and resiliency. What Fredrickson has learned from her research is that positive emotions have an encouraging influence on a person’s identity and well-being.

Stronger Relationships

Relationships are stronger and healthier where positive, contagious emotions are prevalent. Employees are seen as key partners in the success of the team and ultimately in the organization. Employees want to know that they are valued and not just some number built into the company’s balance sheet.


“A team influenced by positive, contagious emotions performs at higher levels.” -Shawn Murphy


Implications of Positive, Contagious Emotions

As a leader, you personally benefit by demonstrating actions that evoke positive emotions. The implications listed below have significant influence on your own satisfaction as a leader. The implications also help shape the climate so that workplace optimism can emerge.

Inspire People to Overcome Challenges

63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators)

Gold nuggets isolated on white background. Gold currency.

Innovation Nuggets

I’m always studying the world’s greatest innovators. From Apple’s Steve Jobs to Tesla’s Elon Musk, we can admire and emulate some of the practices that inspire creativity. Whether you are looking to boost your own innovative spirit, create an innovative team, or power your creative genius, you may find that regularly reading and studying others sparks new ideas.


“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs


One spark may be a new book by George Barbee.

63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators) is a practical guide to boosting your innovation. George Barbee developed these nuggets during the span of his 45 year career as an entrepreneur and corporate leader. For the last 15 years, George has taught at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

I recently spoke with George about his many decades of teaching and living the subject of innovation.


“An innovative network can change the culture of an organization.” -George Barbee


Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Innovate

George, I have heard you say, “Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius, but what about innovating for the rest of us?” What exactly do you mean by that?

Steve was in fact a true genius of “Invention.” He could imagine what people needed and wanted even before they realized it or could verbalize it themselves. He could see around corners into the future.

unnamedBut I believe most of the rest of us way underestimate our ability to “innovate”—especially with focus on techniques and methods within our control to improve this skill. And yes, it is a skill and an art, not an innate ability or something we are necessarily born with. I’ve witnessed this in my business career and the last 15 years teaching at University of Virginia, and interestingly across 40 countries. It’s a major theme underlying the book.

“Invention” is part of the broader scope of “innovation.” In fact, only a slice.

For example, the rest of us can be gifted and train ourselves to “innovate” in new and different ways. Key to the word “innovation” is doing something in a “meaningfully new and different way.” This takes us well beyond just product invention, but “innovation” now incorporates anything that is new and meaningfully different.

In the book we talk about dozens of “nuggets” or little gems that provide insights as to how to innovate. It is, in fact, remarkably easy to develop these skills. Like exercising a good muscle, the more you use it and focus on it, the better it gets. It’s a form of building innovative confidence through practice.

It’s learnable. It’s teachable.


“Innovation is best led by vision.” -George Barbee


Make Observation and Art

Of the 63 nuggets in 63 Innovation Nuggets, do you have one that is a favorite?

That’s a tough question. I started with over 140 nuggets and in an effort to winnow it down to 52 (one per week) I couldn’t bring myself to cut any more, so I went with 63. Not necessarily brilliant, but sincere.

So, a favorite? Well, not necessarily only one favorite but it’s a good place to start: Nugget #19: Observing as an Art. The power and concentration it takes to observe what is around us is quite challenging. As we say, put yourself in “receive mode.” Just take things in around you. Listen. Look. Smell. Maybe even feel and taste. We observe with all our senses. This is time out to THINK. The key is sensing. Thinking.


“Successful innovators have a keen sense of observation.” -George Barbee


We go on to encourage note taking. Practice alone or with a like-minded friend and confidant. Have some fun with the process.

We then go on to tell some stories about observing. Practical situations where innovation around us is often under our noses, but we haven’t taken the time out to appreciate it or document it. One example is ATM or teller lines at banks. It used to be that we would go up to one of three tellers or machines and pick one and hope for the best. Woe to the person picking the wrong line! The tendency was then to hop over to the faster moving line. Then came the great innovation in line management—the “I” formation, or lining up in a single line, with the front person going to the next available opening. Brilliant. It takes the early guesswork out of picking the right single line. Happier customers. True Innovation.


Innovation Tip: Start conversations with “imagine if…”


Think ACROSS to Progress in Your Career